Thet Mahachat is one of the biggest festivals in all of east Asia celebrating one of Gautama Buddha’s past lives. My old english teacher went to Thailand a few years ago to celebrate this festival and recalls his trip in an interview:
Interviewer: “What is the Thet Mahachat festival celebrating?”
Informant: “Thet Mahachat celebrates one of Gautama Buddha’s past lives, his reincarnation as Prince Vessantara Jataka. When he was reincarnated as this prince, he was determined to be charitable in anyway possible and gave away all of this possessions. Such a nobel spirit is celebrated with parades, dance and drama performances. Gautama Buddha is also honored with a sermon from all the monks from the Vessantara Jataka chapters. Most Thai holidays were centered around a moral and in this case it’s highlighting the significance of charity”
Interviewer: “Did you listen to any of the monks’ sermons?”
Informant: “Unfortunately no, I did not get a chance to because I was distracted talking to a local about the festival and the dance performance we were watching. It was incredible! They illustrated the whole story of Gautama Buddha’s rebirth into Vessantara Jataka and his life story. My favorite part was during one of the drama performances when they brought out the elephants. According to the Thai folklore, on the day of Vessantara Jataka’s birth, a white elephant was also born and brought rain to the land which was in a drought”
Analysis: Although my old english teacher was unable to hear the words of the monks, he was able to immerse himself in the culture in other ways by just watching the festival on the street and interacting with the people. His recollection of the Thet Mahachat festival highlights the main themes of the holiday which are charity and elephants. Elephants hold a certain cultural significance in most East Asian cultures, but specifically Thai culture and folklore. The elephant from the story was said to have powers of bringing rain to the land and is regarded highly by the people of Thailand. The motif of the elephant commonly occurs in Thai culture and can be seen at other holidays and festivals. This piece of folklore seems incomplete to me because my teacher did not hear the monk’s sermon but is still quite valuable because it tells more about the Thai culture and how they celebrate.